|Setting the Climate for a Non-Confrontational
What you say in the first few moments of a negotiation often sets the climate of the
negotiation. The other person quickly gets a feel for whether you are working for a win-win solution,
or whether you're a tough negotiator who's out for everything they can get.
That's one problem that I have with the way that attorneys negotiate-they're very
confrontational negotiators. You get that white envelope in the mail with black, raised lettering in
the top left hand corner and you think, "Oh, no! What is it this time?" You open the letter
and what's the first communication from them? It's a threat. What they're going to do to you, if you
don't give them what they want.
I remember conducting a seminar for 50 attorneys who litigated medical malpractice
lawsuits, or as they prefer to call them, physician liability lawsuits. I've never met an attorney who
was eager to go to a negotiating seminar, although that's what they do for a living, and these people
were no exception to the rule. However, the organization that was giving the attorneys their business
told them that they were expected to attend my seminar if they wanted to get any more cases from the
organization. So the attorneys weren't too happy about having to spend Saturday with me in the first
place, but once we got started, they became involved and were having a good time. I got them absorbed
in a workshop involving a surgeon being sued over an unfortunate incident involving a nun and walked
around the room to see how they were doing. I couldn't believe how confrontational they were being.
Most of them started with a vicious threat and then became more abusive from that point on. I had to
stop the exercise and tell them that if they wanted to settle the case without expensive litigation
(and I doubted their motives on that score) that they should never be confrontational in the early
stages of the negotiation.
So, be careful what you say at the beginning. If the other person takes a position with
which you totally disagree, don't argue. Arguing always intensifies the other person's desire to
prove himself or herself right. You're much better off to agree with the other person initially and
then turn it around using the Feel, Felt, Found formula. Respond with, "I understand exactly
how you feel about that. Many other people have felt exactly the same way as you do right now. (Now
you have diffused that competitive spirit. You're not arguing with them, you're agreeing with them.)
But you know what we have always found? When we take a closer look at it, we have always found
that . ."
Let's look at some examples:
- You're selling something, and the other person says, "Your price is way too high." If
you argue with him, he has a personal stake in proving you wrong and himself right. Instead, you
say, "I understand exactly how you feel about that. Many other people have felt exactly the same
way as you do when they first hear the price. When they take a closer look at what we offer, however,
they have always found that we offer the best value in the marketplace."
- You're applying for a job, and the human resources director says, "I don't think you have
enough experience in this field." If you respond with "I've handled much tougher jobs that this
in the past," it may come across as, "I'm right and you're wrong." It's just going to
force her to defend the position she's taken. Instead, say, "I understand exactly how you feel
about that. Many other people would feel exactly the same way as you do right now. However, there are
some remarkable similarities between the work I've been doing and what you're looking for that are
not immediately apparent. Let me tell you what they are."
- If you're a salesperson and the buyer says, "I hear that you people have problems in your
shipping department," arguing with him will make him doubt your objectivity. Instead, say,
"I understand how you could have heard that because I've heard it too. I think that rumor may
have started a few years ago when we relocated our warehouse; but now major companies such as
General Motors and General Electric trust us with their just-in-time inventories, and we never have
- If the other person says, "I don't believe in buying from off-shore suppliers. I think we
should keep the jobs in this country," the more you argue the more you'll force him into
defending his position. Instead, say, "I understand exactly how you feel about that, because
these days many other people feel exactly the same way as you do. But do you know what we have found?
Since we have been having the initial assembly done in Thailand, we have actually been able to
increase our American work force by more than 42 percent and this is why . . ."
So instead of arguing up front, which creates confrontational negotiation, get in the
habit of agreeing and then turning it around.
At my seminars, I sometimes ask a person in the front row to stand. As I hold my two
hands out, with my palms facing toward the person I've asked to stand, I ask him to place his hands
against mine. Having done that and without saying another word, I gently start to push against him.
Automatically, without any instruction, he always begins to push back. People shove when you shove
them. Similarly, when you argue with someone, it automatically makes him or her want to argue back.
The other great thing about Feel, Felt, Found is that it gives you time to think.
Sometimes something will come up in a negotiation that you weren't expecting. You haven't heard
anything like this before. It shocks you. You don't know what to say; but if you have Feel, Felt,
Found in the back of your mind, you can say, "I understand exactly how you feel about that.
Many other people have felt exactly the same way. However, I have always found . . ." By the
time you get there, you'll have thought of something to say. Similarly, you sometimes catch other
people at a bad moment. You may be a salesperson who is calling to get an appointment and the person
says to you, "I don't have any more time to waste talking to some lying scum-sucking
salesperson." You calmly say, "I understand exactly how you feel about that. Many other
people have felt exactly the same way. However . . ." By the time you get there you will have
recovered your composure and will know exactly what to say.
Key points to remember:
- Don't argue with people in the early stages of the negotiation because it creates confrontation.
- Use the Feel, Felt, Found formula to turn the hostility around.
- Having Feel, Felt, Found in the back of your mind gives you time to think when the other side
throws some unexpected hostility your way.
is the author of two of Nightingale-Conant's best selling
audiocassette programs, Secrets of Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power
Negotiating for Salespeople. This article is excerpted in part from Roger Dawson's new book -
Secrets of Power Negotiating,
published by Career Press and on sale in bookstores everywhere for $24.99.
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